From the Director
My first experience of engaging in pastoral ministry in Japan was at a residential center, run by the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, for adults who had various physical and intellectual disabilities. Having had no previous experience in this field, I was very anxious about this place of assignment. My unease was intensified by the fact that I was keenly aware of my own inability to communicate well in Japanese. I feared greatly that this initial experiment in ministry would be stressful, dissatisfying and might possibly end in failure. However, summoning all my courage and determination, I headed to the center on the appointed day.
My initial shock was even greater than what I had anticipated! I was dumbstruck at finding that the residents were welcoming, spontaneous and joyful. I was in disbelief at how eagerly they included me in their arts and crafts activities. My feelings of being awkward and helpless quickly melted away as they remained attentive to my presence, and included me in everything that happened throughout the day. As I left the center that evening I was amazed at the inner peace I had come to feel in that community.
From then on, returning there became one of my weekly joys. In fact, I so much enjoyed going there that I became unsure if it really counted as ministry! Moreover, unknown to the residents, they were ministering to me by helping me accept the sense of inadequacy and disability that I felt so keenly as a newcomer and outsider in Japan. They helped me realize that there was no need for me to perform, to accomplish, or to impress in order to be accepted as their companion.
There are several Columban missionaries around the world who have become companions to people with physical and intellectual disabilities. One of them is Fr. Noel O’Neill who has spent these past thirtyfive years engaged in this ministry in Gwangju, South Korea. During that period, he has accompanied many people with intellectual disabilities in their search for meaningful relationships within the wider community, active participation in the larger society, and suitable employment.
I can only imagine how much joy Fr. Noel’s ministry has contributed to the lives of so many people with intellectual disabilities, as well as to their families and communities. However, I am certain of the joy that they have given him, a joy that he radiates so readily. This year, as Fr. Noel celebrates sixty years of Columban priesthood, he continues his mission in Korea with an unquenchable enthusiasm to help people realize God’s dream of including all his children around the same table.